Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Love of Reading

The last entry about books started me to thinking about my love for reading and how it all came about. I really have my great grandmother to thank for that. My great grandmother was a woman ahead of her time. She lived to be 97 years old. She had eight children and to her sorrow she buried several of them, including her youngest son, Jack, killed in World War II. When we were little my older brother couldn't say Great Grandma so he called her "Gran Gran" and we all followed suit. I think she loved having a name a little different and she took such delight in her great grandchildren. Her husband had died when her youngest son was not much more than a baby. For many years she was a single mother and I don't know how she survived financially. She always owned her own home, until the end of her life. Her home that I always remember her in was small but filled with lovely antiques. I lived frequently with my grandparents and she lived next door to them. Many days I would drop in to visit with her. She always had bottles of Coke in the refrigerator and cookies and peppermints in her candy dish. When I was in kindergarten my parents built a house around the block from hers but we were still in Silver Spring. Often I would get off the school bus at her home. Sometime during that time she began to have visual problems. Still she managed to teach me how to read by sounding things out. She was patient and ever so encouraging. When my reading lessons were done, I was treated to an ice cold Coke and a cookie. What joy those visits were for both of us. Soon she had me reading out of the Bible although the names were so difficult for me. Her vision was leaving as my reading skills were improving. She learned that she had glaucoma but too late for them to do anything to fix it. I was heartbroken for her but she was a stoic woman who told me she would be okay. She still baked blind and never failed in her independence. She was very distressed that when she applied to several blind agencies they refused to teach her to read Braille. They told her she was too old to learn. They didn't know what an intelligent woman they were dealing with. For years after Gran Gran lost her sight I would visit her and read her Bible to her. She would smile and tell me that I was a blessing to her. When I was in fourth grade we moved to New Jersey and I was sad to leave my grandmother and great grandmother behind. At that time there were no unlimited calling plans and they couldn't afford to call us very often. In our family room were shelves of books. My Dad ordered a set of classic books and I began to read right through them. Among them was Lorna Doone which I particularly remember reading. My love for reading was already there and I went to our school library and read an entire set of books that were biographies, such as George Washington Carver. I would then send letters to my great grandmother describing the books. She wrote back, using a ruler to keep her lines straight. Once in tenth grade I went for a visit and I was telling her about my geometry class. She told me that she loved geometry and she began to talk about all the theorems. She remembered them all and how to apply them. It was at that moment I realized just how intelligent she was. Later when I got married I wore the pendant that was passed down through her family. There were a long line of women named Clara Virginia (her, her daughter and my mother). My mother broke the chain but my middle name was Claire so I was given the okay to wear it. My sister's middle name is Virginia. Gran Gran did not attend my wedding because she was getting a little frail and didn't want to interfere with everyone else enjoying themselves. When I was pregnant I called her first to inform her she was going to become a great great grandmother and she was thrilled. I have a picture of the five generations of us.

I have many things that belonged to my great grandmother. I have a music box from her dresser (probably aluminum but blue with fake jewels on top), I have a faux Chinese ivory chest with small drawers that also was on her dresser and I have a pin she loved. She gifted me the chest because each day I was there I commented how much I liked it. On my wedding day it was sent to me with a note inside telling me how she loved me and wished me all the best. I know how much she used it and that it was a real sacrifice for her to part with it. The greatest gift she ever gave me though was the gift of reading. When I am stressed I can open a book and leave where I am and go anywhere. I can use my imagination and envision the characters. Ironically, I also inherited Gran Gran's black hair and her glaucoma. Mine was diagnosed very early and I use drops which keep it under control. It is reassuring to know that there are many medicines and surgeries available which control it now. One of the worst things that could happen to me would be to lose my availability to read. I plan to keep my vision and my books for a long time to come.

1 comment:

Missie said...

Enjoy your evening.